Last week, Washington Mystics owner Ted Leonsis and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on March 3 to discuss the future of the WNBA and its successes.
In a Q&A moderated by NPC President Michael Freedman, Leonsis and Engelbert discussed about the growth trajectory of the WNBA and why the league is still in its infancy after 23 years.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Commissioner Engelbert, she is still in her first 12 months after serving as the CEO of accounting giant Deloitte. Before coming to Deloitte, Engelbert went to Lehigh University, where she was on the basketball team playing for now-Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw.
Before McGraw became Commissioner, previous WNBA heads had the title of “President” where they reported to the NBA Commissioner at the time. According to Leonsis, she reports to “the game,” or team owners like him. Englebert also mentioned that her goal with the WNBA is to value the league outside of a traditional male model, given that its players and most fans are also women.
If Engelbert’s previous basketball connections weren’t enough, her father, Kurt, was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1957 after a successful college career at St. Joseph’s, where current Mystics guard Natasha Cloud played. She is often called a “historian” of the game.
Leonsis specifically talked about how much the late David Stern was a driving force behind the WNBA’s growth. He also mentioned that other businesses should be behind the WNBA now, while it’s still on a high growth trajectory, unlike more established leagues like the NBA. He also openly mentioned that he wanted a WNBA team in the Bay Area, given its proximity to Silicon Valley.
Both also talked more about how the WNBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement came about. While the league certainly gave the players more benefits, one concession players also gave was WNBA prioritization. We mentioned how that could affect Emma Meesseman’s future with the Mystics, especially from 2023 on when those rules come into effect.
If there is one question I’d criticize the National Press Club for, it’s overlapping the Wizards and Capitals for this particular Q&A toward the end.
Yes, we know that Bradley Beal and John Wall are some of the biggest Mystics fans out there. And yes, Alex Ovechkin’s mother, Tatyana Ovechkina is one of the top women’s basketball players in Soviet Union/Russian history.
Ted’s a classy guy and was quick to mention these women’s sports connections to Beal, Wall and Ovechkin. Engelbert was too. But I’d imagine that there had to be other relevant questions to women’s sports than that. And if there truly weren’t any questions besides that, then it is certainly a sign that there is still a lot of work to be done to improve the profile of the WNBA and women’s team sports.
Regardless, I am happy to see the growth of the WNBA in recent years, as well as the fact the Mystics were a team that played a primary part of that movement.